By Sam Piha
If we hope to positively impact young people's social and emotional and character skills, it is important that we understand the full context of their lives.
California, like many states, is home to a large number of documented and undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients. Thus, the recent changes to our immigration policy has huge implications for our stakeholders - teachers, parents, and youth.
The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) has developed an excellent report on the effects of the immigration policy changes on our public schools. This report entitled California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools has very little text, only infographics which makes it a powerful communications tool for educators and afterschool providers. Perhaps those in other states can identify similar numbers.
We highly recommend that you take a look at this brief report (8 pages). In reviewing this report:
**NOTE: All infographics and images are from the California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools report by CCSESA
By Guest Blogger, Michelle O'Neill
Immigration reform is headline news. The post-election changes in immigration policies and increase in enforcement have resulted in profound fear and anxiety within our immigrant communities. Immigrant students are one of the most vulnerable populations served in public education. Research shows the changes in policies have negatively impacted immigrant students, and the public schools and programs that serve them. New studies reveal a discernible decline in academic performance, school attendance, enrollment in school based programs and children’s health services.
California is home to the largest undocumented population in the country. Approximately 250,000 undocumented children are enrolled in California schools and an average of four students per classroom throughout the state have an undocumented parent. “Mixed status” children, children who have legal status but their parents do not, are as susceptible to the ramifications of enforcement as their undocumented peers. Each equally live in fear of being separated from their parents and the possibility of having to leave everything they have known. This issue is of great significance for our state’s educators as they have the overwhelming responsibility of supporting the social-emotional and academic success of each of their students.
Though more undocumented immigrants were deported under the Obama administration than any other presidential administration, the level of anti-immigrant rhetoric and propaganda shared by the Trump administration is unparalleled. Immediately following the last election, hate crimes committed against immigrants increased by over 11% in California. The most violent type of hate crimes in Los Angeles increased by 50%, with over half of those incidents involving bias based on race, ethnicity or national origin. Schools have been a particularly common location for hate crimes. Studies show an increase in racial and religious bullying on campus, even between young children. Children as young as three-years-old are deeply aware of the anti-immigrant sentiment and the possibility of losing a parent.
The news has recently been inundated by shocking stories of young immigrant children being taken away from their parents upon crossing the southern border. While this new approach to deterring illegal immigration is horrific and inhumane, it only shines a light on the treatment of families who have just arrived into the U.S. Out of the spotlight, immigrant families across the country are being torn apart every day. Immigrants who have lived here for decades, often longer than they have lived anywhere else, and without any kind of criminal record, are experiencing alarming rates of detention and deportation. The recent termination of several federal programs such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has left hundreds of thousands of upstanding immigrants, many with U.S. citizen children, susceptible to being permanently removed from the country. While the media has focused primarily on illegal immigration reform, there are significant changes also being made to legal immigration policies in an effort to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter or remain in the country legally.
The fear of being separated from loved ones creates significant emotional stress for children and the experience of having a parent deported can result in lifelong trauma. When children do not feel safe, they cannot be ready to learn. Public schools and afterschool programs have already been hard pressed to effectively support the extent of challenging behaviors and social-emotional needs of the students they serve. A recent report by the Children’s Partnership, a California based children’s advocacy organization, found a 50% increase in immigrant children receiving diagnoses for anxiety and depression. Increases in student mental health issues coupled with climbing rates of bias-related bullying and harassment at schools is deeply troubling for educators.
As the presidential administration continues to become more aggressive in its efforts to curb immigration, educators must prepare to support more intensive student needs with less economic resources. Programs assisting low-income students such as Head Start, Free and Reduced Lunch, Medi-Cal and after school services, have experienced a significant decline in enrollment. Immigrant parents are too fearful to complete applications, terrified to share personal information that may identify them, or utilize services that may label them as a “public charge” damaging the possibility of changing their immigration status. Public schools and agencies that depend on the critical funding enrollment in these programs generates have cause for concern. With the steady decline of public school enrollment across the state, many school districts have already found themselves in a financial lurch. If immigration enforcement continues to impact participation in these programs, the financial trajectory public education agencies face in California is dismal.
[NOTE: Graphic images above come from California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association]
Michelle O'Neill works for the Los Angeles County Office of Education under the Student Support Services Division. Her career has been dedicated to serving under-resourced students in public schools. Michelle has served as a school counselor, as well as a school and district administrator. She has coordinated district wide programs that address attendance improvement, drop-out prevention, early intervention services, mental and behavioral health and alternative education. She currently serves as the County Office of Education’s Immigration Coordinator.
By Sam Piha
We have known for decades that promoting young people’s sense of physical and emotional safety is foundational for any expanded learning program. This has been reinforced by research on the brain, learning, and trauma-informed practice and is the number one quality standard created by state and national entities.
The knowledge about the importance of safety in expanded learning programs is so ubiquitous that we chose to not include it in our LIAS learning principles. However, recent events at the southern border has shined a light on the importance of promoting young people’s sense of safety.
Below, we share text from a chapter on promoting safety from the Community Network for Youth Development’s Youth Development Guide: Engaging young people in after-school programming.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO INCREASE SAFETY
1. Develop group agreements regarding safety and regular group meetings to ensure that everyone feels physically and emotionally safe.
Conduct a meeting with the program participants early on to express the commitment that in your program “every person has the right to feel safe, included, and accepted.” Ask participants to define what these terms mean to them, and what agreements and rules they want to make to ensure the right of safety. Decide together what happens when the safety agreements are broken. Train young people in a process to resolve differences and decide at what point an adult should be asked to intervene.
2. Institute a regular group or “community” check-in meeting.
If issues of safety and relationship building are important, set aside a regular time for the group to reflect on their experience in the program and to suggest ways in which the peer group can work together even better. Make room in the meeting for people to share appreciations for their peers who are contributing to making the program a positive, safe place. [See previous LIAS blog posts on this topic.]
3. Include “no put-downs” in your group agreements.
When developing group agreements with young people, a request for a “no put- down” rule will usually surface early in the discussion. [Note: for those preferring an alternative agreement avoiding the negative "NO", try “respect yourself and others”. This is a broad agreement and needs to be “unpacked” with the participants.]
It is important to discuss with the young people how everyone will support its enforcement. This takes real commitment, as many young people have learned to use “put-downs” as a defense against being hurt themselves. Adult staff members will have to follow through with great consistency, offering reminders that ask members to hold to this agreement, especially in the beginning. Take every slur you hear seriously, even if it is in a teasing tone or participants claim it is okay. It is not okay because slurs hurt. It is helpful to hold group discussions or activities around “put-downs”, why they hurt, and what we can do instead. As young people come to trust that you will enforce this policy, you will see a reduction in the number of “put-downs”, and the sense of safety in the program will grow. Learning the benefits of interacting without this kind of hurtful behavior at an early age teaches young people a profound lesson in the value of mutual respect.
4. Assess the cultural, gender, ethnic, and family structure background of your group.
Without asking unnecessarily probing questions, do what you can to learn who is in your program. Do the staff members and volunteers reflect these backgrounds? Do images and books in the classroom? Program activities and celebrations? Are there differences in who comes to program, who participates in which activities, which parents feel welcome at events?
5. Expand the group’s knowledge of particular groups and cultures.
Start by educating yourself. Avoid tokenizing young people or others in your program or school by asking them to explain their culture. Instead, go to the library, look on the internet, attend local cultural events, and call or visit organizations promoting equity for the group you are researching. Learn what you can about the history, art, literature, music, food, celebrations, and struggles of a culture or group. Then help the young people in your program study different cultures and celebrate the contributions of different groups. You might learn about women, people of color, and gay people who have contributed to your neighborhood. Celebrate various holidays as they are celebrated in different countries. Celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Gay Pride Month, or Cesar Chavez’s Birthday. Young people can present what they’ve learned, and adults may be willing to share food, decorations, or music. Don’t make assumptions about what any particular person might share. Be sure that these celebrations are part of an ongoing process of inclusion and education, and that some groups aren’t just segregated to certain “diversity days.”
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.